Chicago Theatre Review
They Don’t Make ‘Em Like This Any More
Light Up the Sky – Citadel Theatre
Playwright and director Moss Hart is best known today for his legendary comedic collaborations with George S. Kaufman. Their hit plays include “You Can’t Take It With You” and “The Man Who Came to Dinner.” This 1948 comedy, which opens Citadel Theatre’s 15th season, represents Hart’s solo work, a three-act play written as an homage to the world of the theatre, where the playwright worked, played, lived and died.
Hart’s backstage story revolves around the relationships and histrionics between almost everyone connected with the opening of a brand new play in its Boston out-of-town tryout. They include the famous leading lady, her sarcastic mother, her Wall Street husband, the play’s overly melodramatic director, the money-conscious producer and his wife and the young, new playwright. In addition, there’s also the actress’ assistant and ghost writer, a longtime friend and playwright who stops by for moral support, as well as a fawning, starstruck Shriner. The play spans 24 hours, set in the actress’ posh Ritz-Carlton Hotel suite just prior to the opening night performance; later that night, following the curtain call; and early the next morning, just as the reviews have come out.
Director Pat Murphy, no stranger to Citadel audiences, once again orchestrates this comedy, deftly guiding his cast through some very nice ensemble work, while offering a few star turns, as well. He’s technically supported by Eric Luchen’s lovely French Provincial hotel suite and Cassandra Bierman’s wash of lighting that’s so appropriate to each hour of the day and night. Bob Boxer has created a sound design that evokes memories, both of the era and of all things show business. Paul Kim has provided a lush wardrobe for each character that is colorful and period perfect.
Laurie Carter Rose is an extravagant, gushing, narcissistic Irene Livingston, the grande dame of the American stage. Modeled after Talulah Bankhead, this woman truly believes that “all the world’s a stage.” She’s matched moment-by-overplayed-moment by Geoff Isaac as her flamboyant director, Carleton Fitzgerald. One step from being a stereotype, Carleton, with his scarves and fancy evening garb, becomes the brunt of everyone’s jokes. Whenever at a loss for words, which isn’t often, the director lowers his head and enthusiastically exclaims, “I could cry!” Ironically, this evokes laughter each and every time.
Producer Sidney Black, the loud, bombastic money manager of the play-within-the-play, is brought to life by Rob Frankel. Audiences will fondly remember this gifted actor in Citadel’s “Other People’s Money.” Black’s lovely wife Francis, a famous figure skating star, is played with a Billie Holiday nasality by area newcomer, Sarah-Lucy Hill. She not only holds her own with Frankel, but commands a couple of terrific scenes with veteran actress Lauren Miller, as Stella, Irene Livingston’s acerbic-tongued mother. Whenever this actress is on stage, it’s impossible to notice anyone else. Imagine the glorious Ruth Gordon returning to play this role and you’ll understand the subtle power of this terrific comic actress. Together, Frankel, Hill and Miller create a powerful trio of talent on the Citadel stage.
Jordan Golding is earnest and empathetic as Peter Sloan, the truck driver who’s written his first play, only to have it produced on Broadway. It’s all too much for this young playwright and, until the very end, is too shy and reticent when among the other luminaries around him. Last seen in Citadel’s production of “Deathtrap,” Chuck Quinn III is excellent as the more down-to-earth veteran playwright and longtime friend, Owen Turner. It’s his level head, kind advice and true friendship that wins over in the end. Chuck Dribin is hilarious as Tyler Rayburn, Irene’s fish-out-of-water Wall Street mogul husband. Irene Currie does a commendable job as Irene’s assistant, Miss Lowell. And, doing triple duty, versatile actor Jim Heatherly plays a snooty masseuse, an airline police officer and, in a great burst of hilarity, a Shriner named William H. Gallagher, who confesses he’d love nothing more than to be a part of show business.
There will be some who think this play is too dated. Other audiences, used to shorter, formulaic sitcoms, will think that, at two-and-a-half hours with two intermissions, the play is too long. Still other patrons may find so many hammy, exaggerated characterizations in this comedy way over-the-top. But this is an homage, not merely to a time and place, but to the theatrical style of the Golden Age. They don’t make ‘em like this any more were words never truer spoken. Moss Hart drew upon the people and the world he knew best to create this sendup of backstage show business, a world that really hasn’t changed all that much since the late 1940’s. He patterned these bizarre characters after many of the real-life theatre people he knew and loved. Now today’s audiences will have the chance to love them, too.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented September 29-October 29 by Citadel Theatre, 300 S. Waukegan Rd., Lake Forest, IL.
Tickets are available by calling 847-735-8554 or by going to www.citadeltheatre.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.